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When You Are Old, Chinese, and Gay

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Gay, lesbian, and bisexual retirees seek companionship and acceptance in old age, but some find it harder than others.

 

By Fan Yiying

Zhang Guowei, a 76-year-old bisexual veteran, is relishing his twilight years. “I couldn’t be happier with my life post-retirement,” says Zhang, who was a doctor in the army until 1994.

As a former military officer, Zhang’s monthly pension is 10,000 yuan ($1,440) — five times the average pension in Changde, the small city in central China’s Hunan province where he lives with his boyfriend. Zhang divorced his wife in 2003 and met the love of his life — Wu, who is 40 years younger — a year later on the internet. “I expect him to accompany me through the remainder of my life,” Zhang tells Sixth Tone after finishing his daily exercise routine.

Zhang says he is bisexual but prefers men. He gained support and understanding from his ex-wife and two daughters when he came out to them in 2003. When he passes on, his assets will be divided equally among his daughters and his boyfriend. “My kids have no problem sharing with Wu because they know he is the one taking care of me in my final years,” he says.

The May-December couple have been living together since 2005 in an apartment provided by the government for retired army cadres and their families. The 10-story building houses a dozen veterans in their 60s through 90s, some living alone and others with their spouses.

When Wu first moved in, Zhang told his neighbors that Wu was his gan erzi, or adopted son, whom he met online. (The Chinese concept of gan erzi allows for a sort of informal adoption of adults, with no legal or religious implications.) “I had this vague idea that they might be gay,” says 74-year-old Lu Shize, who lives downstairs. “But it’s none of my business to ask about his private life,” Lu adds.

Last year, following in other veterans’ footsteps, Zhang wrote a 218-page autobiography — including his experiences of recognizing his sexuality — and shared it with his fellow cadres. His neighbors were very understanding. “Everyone knows about us, and no one gossips or gives us a hard time,” Zhang says.

Lu, who had never before met any out gay or bisexual men, says he admires Zhang’s courage. “Being gay or not, it doesn’t change the way I see him,” Lu says. “We are in our 70s; what’s more important than being happy and healthy?”

China’s population is rapidly aging. The proportion of the population aged 60 or older was more than 16 percent at the end of 2015, according to the Ministry of Civil Affairs, and that number is only set to increase. The nation’s changing demography brings with it challenges for managing welfare and health care, especially as fewer seniors are able to count on their families for support.

Two older men hold a symbolic wedding ceremony in Beijing, Jan. 30, 2013.

Decades of family-planning restrictions mean that even seniors who have children often must become self-reliant, as children born during the one-child policy can’t afford to support two parents and four grandparents. As a result, for many elders, being childless is no longer a major concern or an unusual occurrence.

Wen Xiaojun, 56, is single and childless. Immediately after he retired in November from working as a civil servant, he rented an apartment in Sanya, on the southern island of Hainan, where he is spending six months avoiding the cold of his hometown in the eastern province of Zhejiang. “I still feel young and restless,” Wen tells Sixth Tone. “Being childless makes it easy for me to travel after retirement.”

Like other older people, LGBT seniors want to have rich, fulfilling, and independent lives. They hope that retirement will give them the opportunity to focus on what they truly love.

Wen enjoys his slow-paced life in Sanya. He goes to exhibitions, takes walks along the beach, plays volleyball with locals, and sometimes meets up with men he contacts through Blued — a popular gay social app, on which he hopes to find a long-term boyfriend.

But dating isn’t easy for older gay men. “Younger generations can build a relationship quickly by kissing or having sex soon after they meet offline,” Wen explains. “But we want something more spiritual and stable.”

Similarly, 62-year-old Ah Shan, as he’s called within the gay community, says that finding a partner is his biggest problem these days. His finances are secure, as he owns his apartment in Guangzhou — capital of southern China’s Guangdong province — and receives a monthly pension of about 5,000 yuan, but he has been single for four years and is ready for that to change. In the meantime, he is renting out one of his bedrooms to gay friends so he has some company at home.

Ah Shan poses for a picture in Guangzhou, Guangdong province, 2013.

Most gays, lesbians, and bisexuals of Ah Shan’s generation knew little about their sexual orientation until internet access became available at the turn of the millennium. Even when Ah Shan was working in the U.S. in the late 1980s, he refused to consider himself gay because the only information he’d heard about gay topics in China was AIDS-related or implied that homosexuality was shameful or immoral. “I think I was brainwashed,” Ah Shan laughs.

Over the last two years, Ah Shan has been working on a gay oral history project, recording the stories of older gay men in Guangzhou. He has talked to more than 60 gay men aged from 60 to 90, who have experienced some of China’s most critical historic moments, from the Cultural Revolution to the nation’s opening-up era. “If we don’t record them now, part of the important history of LGBT in China will be gone,” he says.

Many of the men are married and choose not to come out to their families. “They go to this particular park to chat with other gay men in the daytime to release their emotions, but when the sun goes down, they have to return home to bear their family responsibilities,” Ah Shan says with a sigh.

Ah Shan’s own parents passed away before he was brave enough to tell them the truth. His mother died in 2000, a year before homosexuality was declassified as a mental illness in China.

Compared with gay and bisexual men, older women find it even more difficult to disclose or discuss their sexual orientation. Since 2010, 45-year-old Yu Shi from Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province, has been working on an oral history project for older same-sex-attracted women across China, but she says the process of locating participants and persuading them to share their stories is tough.

“Chinese women are in a weak position in the family, which doesn’t allow them to speak out for themselves,” Yu says, adding that of the 30 or so lesbians who have taken part in the project over the last six years, only one has come out to her family. Many won’t divorce their husbands even if they have female partners. “Chinese people are very concerned with saving face, and they think it’s a loss of face to get a divorce if you’re already a grandparent,” she says.

Yu and her 40-year-old girlfriend have lived together for over a decade, but despite their enduring, loving relationship, they can’t enjoy the security of a formal union, as same-sex marriage is not yet legal in China. Some issues can be resolved by making a will, but others — like legal or medical power of attorney — remain a problem.

According to Yu, some LGBT seniors who are single and childless have considered building their own retirement estate where they can live together and take care of one another. Although they aren’t opposed to regular nursing homes, Yu says “they prefer to live in a place where they can open their hearts and share their experiences with others in the same circumstances.”

A lesbian couple kiss each other during an event in Shanghai, Dec. 22, 2013.

As more and more seniors live separately from their children, retirement facilities in China have struggled to meet growing demand. The government encourages investment in privately owned nursing homes, but so far none have been established exclusively for members of sexual minority groups.

Little public attention is given to the needs of older LGBT people, but to Wang Anke, a 50-year-old bisexual woman from Beijing, these individuals don’t do enough to stand up for themselves, either. “We are almost invisible,” she says.

Wang married her husband in 1990 and plans to spend the rest of her life with him. Though Wang considers herself happy and fortunate, she says that most older lesbian and bisexual women she knows are pessimistic about their senior years. “They’re lonely and lack emotional care,” Wang says, adding that many would rather live alone than move into a nursing home where they fear they can’t be themselves. “Loneliness will go to the grave with them.”

But while some LGBT seniors advocate dedicated nursing homes, Ah Shan opposes the idea of separate services. “In the long run, LGBT people shouldn’t lock ourselves in a so-called safe place,” he says. “What we really need is for the overall environment to allow us to live comfortably in the community.”

Complete Article HERE!

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“I’m spying on my husband!”

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Name: Janet
Gender: Female
Age: 32
Location: Sacramento
Recently I accidentally discovered that my husband is downloading porn onto his computer from the internet. There’s a lot of it and it all features teenage girls. I feel sick at the discovery. Why in the world would he hide something like this? I don’t get it, and I don’t know what to do about it.

Let’s see, why would your husband hide his sexual fantasies from you? Ahhh, maybe it’s because he knows that if he did share this private little part of his life with you, you’d pitch a fit just like you are doing now.

cheerleaderSo your husband has a harmless fantasy life. Big deal! Get over it, darling. You want honesty in your marriage, Janet? Then stop being such a prig.

Fact is, most straight men groove on young female flesh. (Gay men on young male flesh.) Where’s the surprise in that? The male brain is hot-wired to find youth attractive and alluring. It has something to do with the original purpose of sex — procreation. Youthfulness equals fertility; it’s as simple and genetically programmed as that. Your husband is just bein’ a guy. Why would berate him for that?

Not to mention, our entire culture is obsessed with youthful (particularly female) sexuality and sexiness.  Have you ever seen a cheerleader?  You don’t think it’s accidental that we dress young women that way, do you?

Even though most mature straight males want to gawk at teenage titties, they are rarely stupid enough to think that they can compete with hot and hunky younger men for the affections of these nubile vixens. Despite their rich fantasy life, they are more likely to stick with the adult females they’ve married. The guys who are to dense to figure this out, are likely to be absolutely miserable in the pursuit of what will constantly elude them. So give your old man a break, and let him enjoy a little virtual thrill.

Oh and Janet, and all you other people out there who are snooping around in other people’s private affairs — stop it. Do you honestly think that I fell for that “oh, I accidentally discovered downloaded porn on my husband’s computer” bullshit? Shame on you for prying into his private life without his permission. You have no right to do that. Even in a marriage an individual has a right to privacy and you, my dear, violated that trust. If anyone ought to be upset at this discovery it ought to be him.

But maybe he needs to tell you all this himself. Why not tell hubby what you’ve told me and see what happens.

Good luck

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7 Tips For Better Sex

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By Chloe Kraven

sensual

Sex is a craft; and just like any other craft, one improves with study and practice. In our Western Society, sex is taboo, and most of us look on it with varying degrees of shame and embarrassment, but this need not be the case. Whatever your feelings are personally about sex, the fact remains that the more you practice sex with one partner or with many, the better at it you will become. This holds especially true if you take interest in actually being good at it, which is a loaded situation, especially for women. You don’t want to be ‘too good’ because then you’ll raise suspicions about how many men you’ve slept with, but you also want to be ‘good enough’ to please your partner and keep them satisfied.

So as I’ve mentioned, for many sex is a minefield, both emotionally, psychologically and physically. Since I am not a licensed therapist, I cannot walk you through the emotional or psychological aspects of this situation; however, since sex is my craft, something I’ve spent years and years of my life indirectly studying and practicing, I can offer you some physical tips to improve the quality of sex you are or will have. Whether you’re a male or a female, gay or straight or bi, in a monogamous relationship or seeing multiple partners, these tips should improve the sex you’re having. They are general, all around tips for increasing satisfaction and intimacy levels.

Let’s get started!

7. Just Relax!black-lesbian-couple

First of all, sex, as mentioned above, is a very loaded experience for many people. Even for men, despite what most women thing. Men, as much as women, and perhaps more so, experience a large amount of anxiety when it comes to sex, even if they don’t show it, or don’t admit to. Mostly, men are anxious about the actual performance, and if they are with a new partner, being able to please their partner. This is a huge male insecurity—to somehow come up short on actually pleasing the person they are with. Women tend to be more insecure about their looks and their bodies; but either way, there’s a ton of anxiety that happens whenever sex is involved.

Anxiety has no place in the bedroom, though. It makes sex a rushed and shameful affair, and anyone would be hard pressed to enjoy sex if they are too worried about their performance or their looks. So relax! Maybe have a drink beforehand (but not too many!), take a hot bath, sit and meditate for a while. Do something that loosens you up and gets you out of your head, and into your body. Sex is best experienced in a physical way, so when you’re having it, the place to be, mentally, is inside your body, not your head! This is especially true for women, because so much of our orgasm is mentally based. If you can’t let go and get outside of your own insecurities, you’re never going to have a great orgasm. Men as well can experience performance problems if they are too nervous, so do what you can to minimize the anxiety, and also know that whoever your partner is, they obviously like you enough to want to have sex with you, so bare it all! What have you got to lose?

And women—know that not all men are into the type of so-called perfect bodies you see in the magazines. Plenty of men love a muffin top, or a tummy, so even if you think your body isn’t perfect, chances are the man you’re seeing probably disagrees with you. For every body type, there is a man who fetishizes it. Got stretch marks? Some men love that. Saggy boobs? There’s a man who loves those too. And men, your woman wouldn’t be with you in the first place if you didn’t satisfy her. Women don’t need or generally want a 12” penis and 3 hours of hard sex. Your 5” or 4” one is great because it’s attached to you, and so what if you only last 5 minutes? You’re your own worst critic and probably comparing yourself to male porn actors, which is absolutely ridiculous because no woman wants to have sex like that. Don’t aspire to it!

6. Be Gentle

senior coupleAgain, most people don’t want or even like porn sex in real life! Women like a soft touch, and most men like to start off slow, even if they enjoy harder stuff later on. The most erotic thing to both sexes is a soft and velvet touch.

Caress and undress your partner like they were a porcelain doll, and move with caution around them. Do not throw your entire body weight on top of them or accidentally smack them in the face with your elbow because you were not paying attention to where they were anticipating a move. Be aware of your own body and how it’s interacting with your partners, which is a key part of what I mean when I say ‘be in your body’. Be aware of where it is and what it’s doing. And make full use of subtle touches; a piece of hair that drags slowly across their face, or a breath of hot air from your mouth before placing your lips on their stomach. Sex is about the small, gentle, intimate moments between two individuals, and whether you’re going to see this person again or not should be irrelevant. If you’ve chosen to be intimate with someone, no matter who they are or what they mean to you, they deserve to be treated with respect and care because it’s a scary thing indeed to be intimate with anyone. We forget that sometimes, we forget the bravery involved in sex and intimacy, and how much we all risk in sharing this with each other.

So be gentle physically and emotionally with your partner. If they want something rougher later on, you can build to that. It helps to also ask your partner what they want out of the sexual encounter and what type of sex they generally like; however, most people who really enjoy rough sex with share that with you before starting sex, or pretty blatantly indicate it once sex has begun. If you are with a partner who enjoys rough sex, please do remember that human beings are fragile and even then start slowly and build pressure. If they like to be choked, don’t start with a full on grasp of the throat. Start with a gentle but firm grasp of the neck and continue to apply pressure, while gauging their reaction. This applies to all sorts of situations, anal included. Always start slow and gentle.

5. Move Slowly

Slow is always sexy. Always. Sure, there are times, especially towards the end of sex that things torsocan get faster and heavier, but in the initial seduction and foreplay of sex, rushing things and moving fast is really a buzz kill. Unless you’re having a quickie in the coat closet, take your time to enjoy your partner.

Move slowly and pour like water over your partner. A large part of sex is just simply the way you move—be smooth and have rhythm. The best sex is always with people who have a kinesthetic intelligence; i.e. they are very gifted with the way they move. Not all of us can be so gifted and some of us are clumsy and awkward, but that’s where practice comes in. Practice moving in slow motion, trying to feel all parts of your body at once and to glide them over things very slightly. It helps to be in good physical shape, not for looks, but simply because being in good shape makes this aspect of sex much easier. If you’re strong enough to hold yourself up off of your partner instead of laying, full body weight on top of them, it’s much more enjoyable for your partner; plus, later on, once the sex gets going, you’re going to be able to have better rhythmic strokes and you’ll be able to last longer on top and not end up sweaty and winded after 2 minutes of pumping.

Foreplay is an important, if not the most, important part of sex, and when you’re playing with your partner, do it slowly. Most people rush through foreplay or forget it all together, skipping straight to the actual insertion. This is a mistake because foreplay is the singular best way to build intimacy between partners. Sticking something inside of someone doesn’t build intimacy—laying next to each other, gazing into each others eyes, and running ones fingers across one’s skin, that does. The act of sex, in and of itself, is not intimate which is why porn stars don’t fall in love with each other. If you’re with a person you love deeply, or desire to, give them the time to get to know your body as well as your mind and soul. Use your hands to caress their hair and their head while you’re kissing them, and pull them closer to you, or sit on their lap and use your breath to tickle their earlobes. Ears are such an underrated erogenous zone on both men and women.

Even if you’re not trying to emotionally connect with your partner, these slow, sexy moments do help turn them on. Women especially need a lot of foreplay to get close to orgasm, and most men forget this or rush through it, despite wanting to please their partner. Men, in general, watch too much porn and focus too much on the orgasm a woman has during penetration, which is a mistake. Most women don’t orgasm from penetration, despite misleading porn movies. So if you’re genuine and want to please a woman, give her slow foreplay! There’s a reason the word ‘slowly’ shows up often in erotica—it is simply sexier.

4. Skin To Skin Contact

nude-black-couple-photographyOne of the greatest things in sex is the feeling of another human being’s skin touching your skin. It’s an underrated pleasure, and one that many people don’t notice until they haven’t experienced it for a while. Skin to skin contact stimulates a vast variety of neurotransmitters in our brain that bring us feelings of connection and empathy with each other. Not only that, but the feeling of another human’s skin on yours is also a very big turn on. No matter how badly you may want to keep your bra on if you’re ashamed of your boobs, or no matter how much you might want to be lazy and not get fully undressed, I urge you to get over your fear and don’t be lazy and go ahead and get fully naked. You cannot have a truly enjoyable sexual experience without a bit of skin to skin contact.

Even if you’re in a hurry and having a quickie, make time to touch each other. Put your hands up her shirt or down her pants, or kiss his neck and let your hands brush against his stomach. Make sure that your bodies touch and get close to each other; sex should be intimate even if it’s with someone you’re not interested in falling in love with. If the sex is robotic and lacking in human connection, you’re doing a disservice to your partner and it borders on being unhealthy. As I’ve said before, you don’t have to love someone to be intimate with them, and everyone deserves human compassion and care if they are willing be to brave enough to be intimate with you. So make and effort to connect with your partner through skin to skin contact and other things, such as kissing and eye contact.

And lastly, one of my favorite things to do is to smell your partner. Not smell their cologne or their perfume, but to really smell their body and their scent. This is especially important for couples who are in love, as smelling your partner should turn you on and help stimulate you for sex. One of the largest signs of basic compatibility is finding your partner’s natural body scent attractive. It’s also, on the scientific side, a good indicator of reproductive compatibility and a sign of a good genetic match for you.

3. Focus On Your Partner

Focusing on your partner is so important! For a mutually satisfying sexual experience, you must always keep an eye on your partner’s reactions to your sexual moves. Do not just continue doing what you’re doing, and as assume that because a previous sexual partner enjoyed your technique, that your current sexual partner will enjoy it as well. This also applies to what you see in pornography—just because a woman paid to pretend she enjoys some sexual move you saw in a porn does not mean a real woman, or the woman you are with, will enjoy it as well. Always keep an eye out to gauge how your partner is reacting to how you’re treating them and if they look uncomfortable or even bored, switch it up!holding hands

This is especially important during intercourse, because you can learn a lot about your partner and their likes and dislikes by just watching their body react to the things you’re doing together. A man’s body is more obvious about whether it likes or dislikes something, but women have tell tale signs of arousal too; namely, perky nipples, flushed cheeks or faces, and becoming lubricated. If you’re having sex and you don’t see these signs of arousal, switch it up and try something else. Don’t keep doing what you’re doing, and expect your partner to tell you if they dislike something. A lot of people have a hard time voicing their feelings during sex, or in the bedroom, so it’s always good to either make the first move yourself and ask “are you enjoying this?” or if they are obviously not, try something else or ask them what they would prefer. Women especially think that being assertive and knowing what they like and dislike during sex and voicing these opinions and thoughts is a turn off for most men, and are unlikely to really be sexually forward in that manner. However, women should remember that in general, this is NOT true and that most men actually love a woman who knows what she likes and dislikes and who isn’t afraid to tell them straight away!

Which leads me too….

2. Communicate, communicate, communicate!

Whether you’re shy or reserved or outgoing and outspoken, you must, either verbally or nonverbally, communicate with your partner! This is very, very important and it is one of the most important things to do if you’re looking to have better sex!

kissing.jpgSex is all about learning what another person likes and learning what you like. Sex is about exploration, and if you’ve chosen to include another partner, it is very important that you share that experience with them. You cannot properly share the experience or have any intimacy with someone who you don’t communicate with. Whether it’s telling them your life’s story and all of your personal turn ons, or simply telling them “faster” or “slower”, communication helps both of you figure out how to please each other. Otherwise, it’s a crap shoot, as human sexual preferences are infinitely variable. What works for one person, won’t for another; what is appealing to one man or woman, is disgusting to another one. Don’t ever assume that you know everything there is to know about sex, or that you know the one true way to great sex and that you will force that one way of having sex onto every partner you may have! The most important thing to remember is that there is no one right or wrong way to have sex because every single person has a special and different sexual “formula” that they prefer and the only way to figure out this formula is to communicate with your partner!

There are two ways to communicate—either verbally or non-verbally. You can either talk to your partner and ask them outright what they like or prefer, or if that’s uncomfortable, be very aware of their reactions to the moves you make in bed. It’s often easy, if you’re paying attention, to figure out what someone prefers in bed. If they are into slow, soft sex, if you experiment and go faster, they will give you signs of discomfort. Obviously it’s easier and more ethical to ask up front, but many, many people are too uncomfortable with the topic of sex to be that forthright. So switch things up and gauge reactions and find out what turns on your partner and what doesn’t, and don’t for a minute think that you can “change someone’s mind” or “turn them on” to a sex act, such as anal, that they show a fundamental dislike towards. Not everyone likes the same thing, and just because your ex-girlfriend was really into anal does NOT mean all women are into it! We are all born with our own sexual formula and it doesn’t change, in general, ever; and if it does change, it’s a self discovered change, and it happens when we are ready to explore more or different sides of our own sexuality. You cannot force anyone to like or to try a sexual experience simply because you want to, or because you yourself enjoy it. That is always unethical and uncalled for.

On the flip side of this, it is also advisable for you to be expressive in your enjoyment during sex. Be appreciative of your partner when they are doing something you are really enjoying! Be vocal, be intimate—grab their butt and pull them deeper into you or closer to you, or reach up and kiss them passionately! It’s never attractive to be a dead fish in bed (male or female). People want to know how you’re feeling, what’s going on with you, and there’s no better reward for good sex than returned passion. Don’t be afraid to look stupid, and don’t be self-conscious; sex has no room for such hang ups. Let the feelings and sensations flow through you and generously release passion. Your partner will love it, guaranteed.

1. Eye Contact

This is the very first thing I say to people who ask me how to have better sex. Eye contact. And I always get the same response, every time: “But isn’t that creepy/weird/uncomfortable/awkward??”.

I feel complete when I'm with you

I feel complete when I’m with you

Short answer: NO. I’m not asking you to stare at your partner, unblinkingly, for 10 minutes straight. I’m simply telling you to make prolonged eye contact with them while being intimate. Eye contact, more than anything else, builds intimacy and connection and eyes express more emotion than words, pictures and hand gestures combined.

Women especially feel awkward making strong eye contact with men because it’s inherently an aggressive thing to do. If you think about it, we find eye contact to be aggressive even in normal situations; aggressive and intrusive. However, if you ask a man what makes a blow job average or phenomenal, chances are he will say ‘eye contact’. So there is a fine line between staring too long and not at all, but I have a 3 to 4 second rule that seems to work well. If you’re having intercourse or oral, take a moment to look deeply into your partners eyes for 3 to 4 seconds, and if you want the connection, bare your soul in those moments. It’s difficult to describe how one bares ones soul through a look, but if you just think about an emotion you’d like to convey while looking at your partner, chances are it will come through your eyes. So if you’re truly enjoying yourself, look deeply at your partner with joy and happiness. They will pick up on that emotion, somehow. That’s the mystery and beauty of human connection; somehow, these things transfer.

Take my word for it—eye contact is sexy and it helps build intimacy and helps further communication between both partners!

I hope that this helps everyone who is looking for a better sexual experience, and remember that while love is not mandatory for all sexual activities, mutual respect and intimacy is! No matter who you are intimate with, whether it’s a one night stand, an escort, your wife, or your girlfriend or possibly a third partner, everyone who is brave enough to get naked and expose themselves to you deserves both respect and mutual intimacy. We must all remember and respect the power that the act of sex holds, and so while it can be fun and light hearted, it must always stem from a mutual and equal point of openness and willingness to be vulnerable with each other.

Complete Article HERE!

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Death Is Way More Complicated When You’re Polyamorous

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By Simon Davis

death become her

Screencap via ‘Death Becomes Her’

In February, Robert McGarey’s partner of 24 years died. It was the most devastating loss McGarey had ever encountered, and yet, there was a silver lining: “I had this profound sadness, but I don’t feel lonely,” McGarey told me. “I’m not without support, I’m not without companionship.”

That’s because he has other partners: Jane, who he’s been with for 16 years, and Mary, who he’s been with for eight. (Those are not their real names.) And while his grief for Pam, the girlfriend who died, was still immense, polyamory helped him deal with it.

There’s not a lot of research into how poly families cope with death—probably because there’s not a lot of research about how poly families choose to live. By rough estimates, there are several million poly people in the United States. And while polyamory can bring people tremendous benefits in life and in death, our social and legal systems weren’t designed to deal with people with more than one romantic partner—so when one person dies, it can usher in a slew of complicating legal and emotional problems.

“Whether people realize it or not, the partner to whom they are married will have more benefits and rights once a death happens,” explained Diana Adams, who runs a boutique law firm that practices “traditional and non-traditional family law with support for positive beginnings and endings of family relationships.”

Since married partners rights’ trump everyone else’s, the non-married partners don’t automatically have a say in end-of-life decisions, funeral arrangements, or inheritance. That’s true for non-married monogamous relationships, too, but the problem can be exacerbated in polyamorous relationships where partners are not disclosed or acknowledged by family members. In her work, Adams has seen poly partners get muscled out of hospital visits and hospice by family members who refused to recognize a poly partner as a legitimate partner.

McGarey and his girlfriend Pam weren’t married, so the decision to take her off life support had to go through Pam’s two sisters. The money Pam left behind—which McGarey would’ve inherited had they been married—went to her sisters too, who also organized Pam’s funeral.

This kind of power struggle can also happen among multiple partners who have all been romantically involved with the deceased. The only real way to ensure that everything is doled out evenly is to draft up a detailed prenuptial agreement and estate plan. Adams works with clients to employ “creative estate planning” to ensure that other partners are each acknowledged and taken care of.

Adams is a big proponent of structured mediation as a way of minimizing post-mortem surprises, like when families discover the existence of mysterious extra-marital partners in someone’s will. It’s much better to have those conversations in life than on someone’s deathbed, or after death.

But many poly people remain closeted in life and in death, according to sociologist Elisabeth Sheff, who has studied polyamorous families for 15 years and authored The Polyamorists Next Door: Inside Multiple-Partner Relationships and Families. A person might have a public primary partner—someone they’re married to, for example—plus other private relationships. That can make it harder to grieve when one of the non-primary partners dies, because others don’t recognize the relationship as “real” or legitimate in the way the death of a spouse might be.

Take, for example, something like an employee bereavement policy. Guidelines from the Society for Human Resource Management spell out the length of time off given in the event of the death of a loved one: a spouse, a parent, a child, a sibling, in-laws, aunts, uncles, grandparents. Unsurprisingly, extra-marital boyfriend or girlfriend is not on the list. (Actually, “boyfriend” and “girlfriend” aren’t on the list at all.) It’s possible for an employee to explain unique circumstances to an employer, but in her research, Sheff has found that some poly people prefer not to “out” themselves this way. People still disapprove of extra-marital affairs and some poly people, according to Sheff, have even lost their jobs from being outed, due to corporate “morality clauses.”

It’s similar, she says, to the experiences of same-sex couples who are closeted. “It’s much less so now because they’re more acknowledged and recognized, but 20 years ago, it was routine for [the family of the deceased] to muscle out the partner and ignore their wishes—even if [the deceased] hadn’t seen their family for years and years,” Sheff said. “They would come and descend on the funeral and take over. Or when the person was in the ICU. That same vulnerability that gays and lesbians have moved away from to some extent is still potentially very problematic for polyamorous people.”

Legal recognition of polyamorous unions could provide some relief. After the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act in 2013 and legalized same-sex marriage in 2015, calls for legalizing plural marriage have only become louder. Adams noted that an argument put forth in Chief Justice John Roberts’s 2015 dissent may provide a legal foothold for legalization advocates. “As Roberts points out, if there’s going to be a rejection of some of the traditional man-woman elements of marriage… those same arguments could easily be applied to three or four-person unions,” she said in an interview with US News & World Report earlier this year.

In 2006, Melissa Hall’s husband Paul died at the age of 52. Both were polyamorous, but Paul’s death presented “no special problems,” since they were legally married and Hall had all the rights of a spouse. Instead, she found unexpected benefits in dealing with her husband’s death: In particular, she told me that “being poly made it easier to love again.” Since they had both dated other people during their life together, Hall knew her husband’s death wouldn’t stop her from dating again.

In traditional relationships, it’s not uncommon for people to impose dating restrictions on themselves to honor the desires of their dead spouses, or to feel guilty when they start dating again. Of course, you don’t win if you don’t date either, as people eventually get on your case to “move on with your life.” All this goes out the window when you’re polyamorous, where dating doesn’t necessarily signal the end of an arbitrary acceptable period of mourning.

More partners in a relationship can certainly mean more support. It can also mean more people dying, and with that comes more grief. In an article about loss among polys published in the polyamory magazine Loving More, one man wrote: “Those of us who have practiced polyamory through our lifetime must be grateful for the abundance of love in our lives. But having those wonderful other loves means we must accept a little more grieving as well, when our times come.”

Is the trade off worth it? McGarey certainly seems to think so. “There is more grieving, but… we are held and cradled in the love of other people at the same time.”

He compares his relationship to the Disney movie Up, which starts with a guy falling in love and marrying his childhood sweetheart. “And then [she] dies, and he turns into this grumpy old man because he lost his love,” McGarey said. “I don’t see myself turning into a grumpy old man. I don’t know if I can attribute that to poly, but maybe that’s why.”

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I’m just along for the ride

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Dear Dr Dick,
My husband (34) and I (31) are coming up of ten years of marriage, and for the most part our sex life has been what I would consider average. He’s pretty much been the aggressor in our relationship, which has worked out fine until now. I guess after ten years my husband would like it if I occasionally expressed interest and initiated and told him what I like/don’t like etc. I really have no idea how to do that! I told him that and his comment was that maybe I wasn’t even sure what I liked/don’t like and that I’ve pretty much just been going along for the ride all these years. He’s probably right.
We used to kiss and cuddle etc. to work up to sex and now it’s, “hey, you wanna have sex?” which completely turns me off (which he knows). I’m sure this is partly due to his work schedule and having a four year old so by the time we get to bed we’re wiped out most of the time, but I’m so not into the, “hey, you wanna…” approach.
Anyway, I guess my question is how do I get started in figuring out what I like and don’t like, how do I work up to feeling comfortable enough to verbalize it and especially verbalize or show him that I’m in the mood, and then how do I tell him I don’t like something without shutting him down. There are times, I know I don’t like something but I go along with it because I don’t want to shut him down.
I should preface by saying I’m not a very confident person and tend to be a people pleaser?
Thanks,
Brandi

You’re husband’s right. It is fuckin’ time you started lifting your share of the sexual initiation load. I mean come on! Most women would kill for a man in their life that would show an interest in what they like and don’t like. This going along for the ride stuff has got to end, darling.

female nude159How do you get started in figuring out what you like and don’t like? Masturbation! That’s the shortest and most to the point answer I can think of. Once you discover what turns your crank through masturbation you will have loads of very important information to share with you man. And hey, don’t forget toys, vibrators in particular.

How do you work up to feeling comfortable enough to verbalize what turns you on and verbalizing or showing him that you are in the mood? The answer to this question is as simple as the previous question. You masturbate for him.

Now I know that a lot of people, and that includes most women, have been socialized to think that masturbation is wrong, or at least it’s a private affair that one should keep to herself. But I’m her to tell you that’s just bull-hockey. And this is true for both women and men, gay and straight and everyone in between.

How do you tell him you don’t like something without shutting him down? Well, it’s probably much easier to tell him what you like and how you like it rather than approaching the tutorial from the negative. If he’s not completely brain dead, he WILL get the message. If, however, he starts to do something that is rubbing you the wrong way, so to speak, simply tell him as calmly as possible that he will get a much bigger and better rise out of you if he did it THIS way. And then show him…again.masturbation001

That fact that you sometimes don’t like something but that you often if not always go along with it tells me that you’ve socialized your man into thinking he’s an adequate lover when he perhaps isn’t. Its time for a confession, girlfriend! Be as gentle as you can, but for god sake, it’s time to come clean.

Take responsibility for keeping him in the dark about his lack of sexual prowess. Then tell him that there’s a very easy and fun fix for the problem and show him what you need and how you need it.

If you indeed lack the confidence you need to be honest with the one you love and who loves you back, then frankly Brandi, you deserve what little you get. But if you can muster up the gumption to throw off the tyranny of that whole people pleasing bullshit you’ve been laboring under all these years, then you have a real shot at some happiness and sexual fulfillment. It’s gonna be up to you to make this happen. If you need some support find a sex positive therapist who will help you grow some balls.

Good luck

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